THE ICE HORSES
The Second Shore Poets Anthology
edited by Stewart Conn & Ian McDonough
Scottish Cultural Press, Edinburgh 1996
contained these three poems
THE ICE HORSES
I lean over and point my father’s gaze
at the photo of Bud Finch
at the wheel of his ‘Minneapolis Moline’ tractor
which, though sunk during the war,
had been salvaged.
Later, as a storm battered
the tin roof of our garage
and flakes of broken fence spread across our lawn,
I returned to Bud’s memoirs.
One winter the Thames here froze over
and horses walked out across the river
to graze upon the reeds.
One fell through
and men from Bud’s village pulled it out,
laid it on a gate, carried it back to the village.
This flashes through my mind as I cross
the same water in the passenger seat of my dad’s truck.
We are working at a mental institution,
(once a military hospital)
slipping under the wooden floorboards of wards
to fireproof heating ducts with glass fibre.
We hear heavy horses above, wandering.
Later still I discover that my maternal grandfather
lay in that hospital as I was born in the winter of ’59.
My mother tells me I was taken in and shown to him
like a new tractor brought onto his farm.
Did his eyes see swaddling bands, metal bed, window bars
and bare floorboards glazed with water
or did they see barn, field, horses,
folding under snow,
ships sinking in a blizzard.
THE SEVERED TONGUE
Where’s they going grampy?
Fondling the tin marker in the calf’s ear
I felt its coat of dried mud shudder
as his hand came down once more.
The thwack sent it skidding up the planks
like a potted billiard ball.
Twenty years later
I can’t grasp that tongue.
Can’t get a hold of the skull
between two firm hands and prise it open.
My accent was drained out of me.
A slit bullock over a drain
taught to sound better
my nose forced down in a trough of grammar.
Those words that dripped off his tongue.
The lolling, spittly threads
of long Berkshire a’s and r’s
were sluiced clean away.
Now I stand at a window
in Oxford’s covered market
looking down through my reflection
at a tray of severed tongues.
Trying to find a bucket for his vowels.
The hare-lip of my step-grandfather
cut like a chalk-stream down his face
twisting the upper lip into a V
and pulling the sides of his mouth
To this day I’m not sure how it’s spelt
h.a.r.e. or h.a.i.r.
but I do remember his dog
bolting a hare across the stubble fields
and his worn pipe trembling in that V
as he struck another match
whilst i’d sit in his front room
picking at lamb-roll scholl lunchtimes
listening to country voices rattling from a radio
as big as the T.V. we’d rented since 1966.
Now I get confused
All I hear is the swish and crackle of lit straw
as I spin the dial and press my ear to the speaker.
Those days i was closer
as I peered into the warm dust
at the tiny red lights that flickered.
Could tell a false accent from a real one.
Now it’s all scrambled.
Lost on the air somewhere
from those smoky valves.
Like a spitfire over the channel.